In these days of coronavirus isolation (I’m blessed to be healthy for the time being and hope you, Miss Bates’s readers, are well), a diverting, witty book is the best of companions, offering respite, amusement, and the hope that we will, once more, “embrace one another joyously” (as we chant in my church on Pascha). Such is Kate Bateman’s first in her new series, “Bow Street Bachelors,” This Earl of Mine. It’s light, fresh, engaging, and written with ease and a lovely flow. It is premised on my favourite histrom trope, marriage-of-convenience, which, in truth, if it’s well done, should turn into a marriage-of-inconvenience when those pesky feels come into play for hero and heroine. This Earl of Mine captivated me from the opening scene: wealthy cit-heiress, Georgianna “Georgie” Caversteed, has arranged to marry a Newgate condemned convict to put an end, once and for all, to her cousin Josiah’s, among others, constant, persistent, and unwelcome forays into acquiring her fortune for himself, or as Georgie thinks, “Better a temporary marriage to a murderous, unwashed criminal than a lifetime of misery with Josiah.” A convenient marriage and subsequent widowhood, while Georgie hightails it to her Lincolnshire estate, will ensure her independence of person and fortune. Instead, she marries undercover Bow Street runner and impoverished second son, Bendict “Ben” William Henry Wylde, Etonian and formerly of the “Rifles” during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a most engaging opening scene when Georgie notes, despite the grime and overlong hair, how handsome, strong, and confident her husband is, he of the teasing, twinkling eyes and “broad shoulders, wide chest, and long legs.”
Despite the insta-lust hints in the opening, Bateman manages what few romance authors can pull off in the “meet-cute”: how hero and heroine hit it off, how they’re obviously made for each other, their compatibility, and the affection and mutual respect they will find in their marriage. Neither cares for the appearances of the ton, both like and respect the lowliest in society, both have a penchant for adventure and are high-spirited. Their “compatibility” doesn’t deter Bateman from delightfully witty banter either.
Mere weeks after their hasty marriage, at a ton soirée, Georgie realizes one of the guests, the “scapegrace second son of the late Earl of Morcott, reluctant war hero, and former scourge of the ton” is her convict-husband. From here, let the adventures begin! I adored Ben and Georgie both, couldn’t pick a favourite between the two. Ben is determined to uncover a plot to bring Boney back from St. Helena; Georgie is determined, given its a nautical conspiracy and she the owner of a fleet of ships with nautical expertise, to help him do it. It’s not only that the romantic suspense plot is masterfully navigated, it’s the banter, saucy looks, and affectionate friendship blossoming between Georgie and Ben that gives Bateman’s romance its charm.
There aren’t many sombre notes in This Earl of Mine: Ben’s dark war memories, Georgie’s fear that no one can love her “for herself alone” and not her vast fortune. Some self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness on both their parts. But Bateman has managed one thing more masterfully: to write a romance without a dark moment, to focus solely on growing friendship, shared adventuresome spirit, ethical cores, lusty, healthy attraction, and the realization of an abiding love. There’s no Big Mis, no betrayal scene, no reversal of fortune, no grovel. And yet, it works beautifully, the romantic suspense plot and some further nasty shenanigans on Cousin Josiah’s part, provide sufficient conflict and tension.
Witty banter continues to be the locus of communication between our protagonists and is soon followed by affection, shared values, and a determination to catch their man. Secondary characters, such as Simeon Pettigrew, the execrable-verse-composing-and-spouting suitor to Georgie’s smitten sister, Juliet, offer more comic opportunity for Bateman to show off. Simeon’s scenes are hilarious! But ultimately, it’s Ben and Georgie we love because, as Georgie says, “How liberating, to be able to share a joke with someone of equal wit and flexible morals”. LOL! There is nothing here to impede a marriage of true minds, friendship, and affectionate, playful loving bed-sport. Ben and Georgie make it easy to imagine them growing old in adventure, love, happy family life, and, on occasion, undercover forays to save the nation.
If you, like me, are social-distancing and self-isolating as much as possible and want to be diverted and moved, laugh and hold your breath with the sheer adventure of the thing, then read Bateman’s This Earl of Mine. There’s a delightful HEA where Ben and Georgie receive their title. With Miss Austen, we find in This Earl of Mine “no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma. (Also, I’m greatly looking forward to reading the Bow Street Runners next adventure and love-finding in Ben’s companion, business partner, and fellow-war-vet, Alexander Harland, he of the exquisite cravat knots.)
Kate Bateman’s This Earl of Mine is published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. It was released in October 2019 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-galley from St. Martin’s Paperbacks, via Netgalley.